25 July 2014
Until recently, many children in Mvezo village in the Eastern Cape – the birthplace of Nelson Mandela – had to drop out of school after Grade 9.
This is because the village did not have a high school, which meant that children wanting to enter Grade 10 had to travel far from their homes, to neighbouring towns such as Mthatha and Idutywa.
The Mandela School of Science and Technology, which opened its doors in Mvezo earlier this year, is changing all that – and more. It’s the first comprehensive science high school in the entire rural Transkei to offer subjects like engineering and information technology.
And the government believes that more such schools are needed in South Africa’s rural areas.
President Jacob Zuma, who unveiled a statue of Mandela’s grandfather, Prince Mandela, at the school on Mandela Day last Friday, said the government was serious about ensuring that children in disadvantaged communities were exposed to science and technology.
The idea for the school was born when Madiba said he wanted a high school built near his birthplace. In 2010, telecommunications giant Siemens pledged millions of rands towards the school’s construction.
School Principal Pat Toni, in an interview with SAnews, said the school had brought about many changes for the rural community. The school has four laboratories and a fully-fledged library and IT department, as well as an agricultural science department.
“We have very highly qualified teachers for science and mathematics. I think what the school has brought to this village is quality education – something unfortunately that children in rural areas are not used to,” Toni said.
“The community has embraced the school. We are receiving hundreds of applications and we cannot cope with the demand. Whenever we have a meeting, we have a full hall, and the support is amazing.”
The school has brought opportunities that did not exist in the village before. “Science has moved from very far to just around the corner,” Toni said.
The Mandela school will introduce its first Grade 12 class in 2016, and Toni said several universities have committed to grant bursaries to deserving pupils from the school.
One of the beneficiaries of the school is Nothobile Mapeyi. Her granddaughter, Zukuswa, was forced to leave home to stay with her aunt in Mthatha after she passed Grade 9 in 2012. Now Zukiswa will be able to do her matric at the Mandela school, and will be staying with the family in Mvezo.
“I was not happy when my child had to leave, but we had no choice because I wanted her to continue with her studies,” Mapeyi told SAnews. “Now we have this good school at our doorstep. The future is looking bright for her.”
There are also overseas universities that are lining up to take matriculants from the school after 2016.
“For these reasons, our emphasis is on mathematics and technology because we know the expectation is very high and we are aware that these subjects will open many opportunities for our pupils,” Toni said.
He has promised a 100 percent matric pass rate from his first group of Grade 12 learners in two years’ time.
“I don’t see a reason why our pupils should not perform at that level; we have everything they need for them to excel. We expect the children not only to perform ordinarily, we expect them to be broader in their research and studies,” Toni said.
“We tell them they are not in an ordinary school – they are in a school that requires them to work double.”